On January 13, 2017 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report detailing significant civil rights violations, including excessive use of force, by the Chicago Police Department (CPD), and outlined nearly 100 recommendations for reform. These recommendations resulted from a year-long investigation that was triggered by public protests in the wake of the 2015 video release of the Laquan McDonald shooting.
In previous administrations, when the DOJ concludes an investigation and presents its findings, the next step is usually to negotiate a consent decree, which is a legally binding agreement overseen by a federal court including specific reform objectives, measures of success, and timelines for implementation. However, with the ascension of Donald Trump to the Presidency and the appointment of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ has decided that consent decrees on police reform are not a priority and Chicago was left with a report full of needed reforms but no clear path for court enforced oversight.
In early June of 2017, the Mayor announced plans to work with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), a formal but not binding contract between the city and DOJ, which would be overseen by an independent monitor with little to no enforcement powers. The Mayor received significant criticism for this action, and CRS joined advocates across the city in calling for a consent decree which would be overseen by a judge with enforcement authority, have clearly stated outcomes and measures of success, and engage community stakeholders in the process.
An independent lawsuit seeking court enforced oversight was filed on June 14, 2017 by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University on behalf of Black Lives Matter, and other plaintiffs. The City’s response to this lawsuit was to double down on resisting court enforced reform and, on August 21, 2017 the City of Chicago filed a motion to dismiss the University of Chicago/Black Lives Matter’s lawsuit.
With the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago on August 29, 2017 seeking a consent decree and court oversight to ensure that the CPD implements the reforms recommend by the U.S. Department of Justice. This development came as a surprise to most advocates as recent actions by the city indicated that Mayor Emanuel was not in support of court enforced oversight over CPD.
While there is hope that the Illinois Attorney General’s lawsuit will result in a consent decree with meaningful reforms there are still reasons to be skeptical. The Mayor has clearly made a decision to try to dismiss a lawsuit brought by community organizations representing people directly impacted by CPD’s use of force and civil rights violations while welcoming a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a political ally.
At this point, it is unclear what community input will look like for Attorney General Madigan in negotiating a consent decree with the city. Since no community organizations are plaintiffs in this lawsuit, the negotiations for a consent decree will be private meetings between the City of Chicago and the Attorney General’s office leaving those most impacted by the reforms being discussed outside of the room where the decisions are being made.
We will continue to monitor developments on court enforced reform over CPD and continue to advocate to ensure that the voices of those most impacted by police misconduct are represented in any consent decree over the Chicago Police Department.
Check out The Chicago Reporter’s CPD reforms tracker to learn the status of the DOJ’s recommendations to reform the Chicago Police Department.